Sri Lankan cricketers have described for the first time how they feared some of their teammates had been killed during a deadly attack on the team bus by gunmen in Pakistan — and paid tribute to the driver of the bus for saving their lives.
Six police officers and a driver were killed in the ambush by around a dozen attackers armed with automatic weapons as the players made their way to Lahore’s cricket stadium early Tuesday. Two players, Tharanga Paranavitana and Thilan Samaraweera, suffered gunshot wounds to the chest and leg respectively while six others suffered shrapnel wounds. But vice-captain Kumar Sangakkara told CNN he believed Paranavitana had been killed when he collapsed after being shot. “I was lying on the ground. I heard Thilan (Samaraweera) groan and I heard Tharanga Paranavitana say something. I turned around and a bullet whizzed past my head and hit the seat in front of me. And then I got hit in the shoulder by shrapnel,” Sangakkara said. “Then I saw Tharanga Paranavitana get up and say ‘I’ve been shot’ and then he collapsed on the seat. I really thought he was seriously hurt or even dead.” Read profiles of the wounded players » Describing the initial moments of the ambush, Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss said there had been an explosion “which someone said later was a rocket launcher that missed the bus and went over the top and hit somewhere in front of us.” Watch footage of the gunmen staging their attack » He said two cars then pulled up in front of the convoy, blocking its path. Gunmen jumped out of the cars and started firing, sending bullets ripping through the bus. “By that stage everyone was on the ground,” Baylis told CNN. “Surprisingly it was very calm. There was not a lot we could do except keep low as possible and hope for the best. Every now and then someone would just yell out and say ‘I’m hit.'” Watch Bayliss talk about his experience » Sangakkara said someone at the front of the bus had shouted to the players to take cover. “Some of the guys looked up to see what was going on because the bus just swerved a bit and almost came to a stop,” he said. “Suddenly we heard a couple of explosions getting closer. And then someone from the front of the bus shouted ‘They’re shooting at the bus — get down!’ That’s when we just hit the deck and suddenly we heard bullets thudding into the bus. It kept going for about a minute.” Watch Sangakkara describe how players ducked for cover » A Pakistani security official on the bus then shouted to the driver in Urdu to “go, go go!” Sangakkara said.
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“I think we owe our lives to him — he just put the bus in gear and drove straight through the carnage straight to the ground,” he said. “They tried to shoot the bus driver first and missed and the guy had the presence of mind to do what was needed to save all our lives.” Baylis also praised the driver of the bus for his bravery. “He jumped back in his seat with all the bullets coming through the bus and he got us into the stadium. It wasn’t until we got into the stadium that we could see how hurt some of the players were,” Baylis said. Once inside the stadium the players received medical attention. “Everyone still seemed confused and shocked but the mood was quite upbeat,” said Sangakkara. “A few jokes were being cracked, people were talking to each other, making sure everyone was ok, everyone made a great effort to keep the mood lighter than it could have been in that situation and that’s helped a lot of the guys to get through it.” Sangakkara said he’d had some of the shrapnel removed from his shoulder inside the stadium. He also underwent surgery to remove some more after arriving home in Colombo earlier Wednesday. Paranavitana and Samaraweera are also expected to undergo surgery. Samaraweera still had a bullet in his leg, Sangakkara said. Meanwhile match referee Chris Broad criticized Pakistan’s security forces for their conduct during the attack, claiming they had abandoned match officials traveling in the convoys as “sitting ducks.” The Englishman and other officials had been traveling in a minibus behind the Sri Lankan team bus when bullets ripped through the vehicle, killing the driver and critically wounding fourth umpire Ahsan Reza. Broad has been hailed as a hero for reportedly shielded Reza but he played down his bravery. “I’m not a hero. Ahsan Raza took a bullet to the stomach or chest — somewhere in the spleen and lung region. I was lying behind him on the floor of the van and there were bullets flying all around us,” Broad said. “I only noticed he was injured when I saw a large pool of blood had spilled on to the floor and out of the partially opened van door.”
Broad said police vans detailed to protect the vehicles in the convoy had apparently disappeared during the attack. “I am extremely angry that we were promised high-level security and in our hour of need that security vanished and they left us to be sitting ducks. I am extremely fortunate to be here today.”